Saturday, 21 November 2009

13: Hull City 3 - 3 West Ham United - 21/11/2009

This was one of the craziest games for a long time. Early on, Phil Brown looked doomed, then his players dragged him from the mess before the break before clinging on to a point after going down to ten men. Entertaining, compelling stuff, yet one suspects neither manager will be happy.

West Ham United, below City in the table, were two up in the first quarter of an hour and will be both livid and bewildered by their inability to hang on to that lead. But from that emerges a story of players really feeling for their manager, and though the 3-2 lead the Tigers acquired by the interval was improbable, it detailed the utter commitment felt by the players and Brown should be proud and flattered by that.

He made one change thanks to Seyi Olofinjana's hamstring injury, preferring the industry and distributive skills of Dean Marney to the slightly more one-dimensional spoiling habits of George Boateng. Otherwise, it was as you were, meaning Geovanni had to be content with the bench while the argument continued between the need to accommodate your form player (and top scorer) and the necessity to keep a winning team together.

Valon Behrami had the first chance, putting an eight yard effort straight into Matt Duke's hands after a sluggish Tigers defence allowed too much space for a Hammers attack down the left. That chance was good; the next one was as spacious and, this time, taken well. Andy Dawson deflected a Carlton Cole shot out for a corner, from which a criminally unmarked Guillermo Franco headed in at the near post.

It was a shock, but City found a response. Jimmy Bullard volleyed goalwards from a cleared Stephen Hunt corner and after the drive was blocked, Jozy Altidore and Craig Fagan both had stabs at goal which were deflected and sent wide respectively. It was a cluster of chances that needed through one avenue to find the net, as the visitors were two up shortly afterwards.

Franco, wide and deep on the left, sent a speculative cross to the edge of the area where Jack Collison managed to get a head on it, and the looping ball foxed Duke entirely, arching over the advanced keeper's head and into the net. Unsurprisingly, the well-stocked away end went potty with this goal and Brown, frankly, was out of a job.

But something changed, and Brown helped by keeping his nerve and not making any tactical switches to try to alleviate the situation. The players maintained their composure and, after Richard Garcia's header from Marney's cross was pushed out by Robert Green, the game became a little tepid. Then, finally, City got back into it via the slice of fortune that a team usually doesn't get when it is really necessary.

A free kick was forced at an angle which Bullard chose to drive at goal. The ball hit one defender and spun into the ground before looping high over most of the throng of players, flicking another head and dropping into the West Ham net at the far corner. It was a comical free kick, with the extra touches making the effort go almost into slow motion, but those deflections took it to the one area Green couldn't reach, and City were back in it. Bullard's first goal for the club, assuming he has enough gall to claim it, and the first by an Englishman for the Tigers this season.

Marney then had a shot from distance which, as Marney shots do, flew wide; then the same player chipped a smartly angled ball to Altidore but Green smothered the chance at the American's feet. Bullard aimed a gorgeous ball to the overlapping Bernard Mendy which released the Frenchman with perfection, but Matthew Upson got across to block as he shaped to shoot.

Both centre backs then aimed headers wide from set-pieces - Kamil Zayatte from Bullard's free kick, then Anthony Gardner from Hunt's corner - before the anticipated equaliser arrived. Mendy won the free kick that Hunt swerved in deliciously, and Zayatte got goalside of his marker to thunder a near post volleyt home.

It's 2-2 and Brown seems secure again. There's work to be done still, but to be lvel after sucj a chronic beginning was satisfying enough as the break approached. However, we didn't reckon without Upson getting too friendly on Fagan's shoulders just inside the area and referee Mark Clattenburg giving a probably correct but certainly soft penalty. Bullard slammed home the kick, City's first for more than a year, and the half time whistle shrilled with City 3-2 to the good, having been 2-0 down, and the Tiger Nation making sure the stunned West Ham support were well aware of how they had rather spoiled a winning position.

The second half was made into a West Ham show within fewer than ten minutes after Mendy, dashing across to cover for the prostrate Zayatte, was a fraction too late with his tackle on the advancing Scott Parker and was rightly shown a red card. Junior Stanislas wasted the free kick but the dynamics of the game had evidently changed. Brown slung on Paul McShane for Garcia to make sure the hole in the defence vacated by a gutted Mendy was filled properly, and the Hammers took on a larger share of the possession.

Duke held at the second attempt a shot from Stanislas which took the keeper a bit by surprise, before Franco was scandalously allowed to stay on the park after chopping down Altidore when already on a booking, even though Clattenburg gave a free kick. West Ham forced a corner within a minute and Manuel Da Costa swiped in a far post shot after lame covering presented him with the chance; and quickly Franco was subbed, as if his manager knew he was playing with fire.

So, 3-3 and now the visitors looked more likely to win again. Brown took off the tiring but impressive Altidore - the lad is getting there but just needs a goal - and sent on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. But with Fagan forced wide by Mendy's dismissal, the Dutchman was alone at the top and given little opportunity to make an impact.

Gardner nearly let sub Luis Jimenez in when unaware of danger on the edge of his own box, and was lucky not to be punished as the shot hit the side netting. Brown let Geovanni loose in the final stages, withdrawing Hunt, but the Brazilian could do little as West Ham continued to put the squeeze on the Tigers, sensing victory was a real possibility. Cole headed a Julien Faubert cross over, then Collison's header via the same source was palmed away by Duke, who then was able to scramble to his feet and collect. The four minutes of added time petered out, with Geovanni trying one ridiculously long-range free kick which cannoned off a well assembled West Ham wall.

So, a 3-3 draw and everyone was exhausted. It wasn't a win but the nature of the comeback and the resilience shown upon losing a man showed all, but especially Adam Pearson, that there was life in Brown's regime yet. Draws are rarely pleasing, but given the calamitous start to the game and the disadvantage caused by Mendy's red card, it was a draw worth taking. And, of course, the madness was entertaining madness. Everton's visit on Wednesday night may not be so kindly, and Brown has big decisions to make yet again.

Hull City: Duke, Mendy, Dawson, Zayatte, Gardner, Marney, Bullard, Garcia (McShane 57), Hunt (Geovanni 85), Altidore (Vennegoor of Hesslink 73), Fagan. Subs not used: Myhill, Kilbane, Boateng, Barmby.

West Ham United
: Green, Faubert, Gabbidon, Upson, Da Costa, Parker, Stanislas, Behrami (Hines 60), Collison, Franco (Jimenez 70), Cole. Subs not used: Kurucz, Spector, Ilunga, Kovac, Nouble.